Today, NOAA released the latest drought update for the U.S., through their Drought Monitor website.
The updated map for Washington State, shown below, indicates normal conditions for western Washington and the western side of the Cascades.
But east of the Cascades, it indicates large areas of moderate drought, severe drought, and even EXTREME drought.
I am very troubled by this drought depiction. As demonstrated below, it simply doesn’t appear reasonable.
Such excessive drought depictions are frequently provided by this source. A major issue is that media and politicians pay a lot of attention to the Drought Monitor graphic, and it serves as one source of the ever-present drought narrative that is constantly being thrown around on social and traditional media (see below from CNN).
Courtesy of CNN, January 13th.
So is “extreme” or “severe” drought reasonable for eastern Washington State?
Let me provide you with the data and YOU make your own appraisal. As an aside, the NOAA drought monitor is a subjective graphic based on an analyist looking at a number of data sources. It is not objective.
First, consider the precipitation departure from normal during the past three months (below). Cumulative precipitation is WAY above normal in the west, and slightly above normal ove the majority of eastern Washington.
Snowpack? The critical source of water during the summer? Snowpack is well above normal for the entire state.
River levels? Well above normal in the western part of the state, near normal in the east.
The extreme drought (red) area of the Drought Monitor depiction includes the drainages of the Yakima River, which provides critical water resources for agriculture for that area.
How full are the important Yakima reservoirs? (see below). Mama Mia! The Yakima Reservoir system is HUGELY ahead of normal (blue line–this year, red line–average year). On January 13th the reservoirs are as full as they would normally be on April 1. Plus, we have a huge snowpack that will top off the reservoirs even without any more rain. The Yakima area is in good shape. I mean VERY good shape..
The water from the Columbia River is also important for agriculture, fish, and water usage in eastern Washington.
What is the predicted flows of the Columbia in mid-May, right before the summer season? Good news (see official prediction below)! Predicted flows coming into the Grand Coulee dam are well above normal.
How about soil moisture in the upper layer (10 cm) around the state? As shown below, most of the state has above normal soil moisture, including much of the “drought” area. And a portion of eastern Washington is near normal (while).
How about deep soil moisture (one-meter deep)? Virtually ALL of the extreme drought area has WAY above normal deep soild moisture (green and blue). The only place that is dry is along the eastern slopes of the north Cascades where there is record-breaking snow above it. That soil will not be dry for long.
Finally, what about the famous Palmer Drought Severity Index, that includes both temperature and precipitation influences over an extended period of time (see below). Eastern Washington is near normal.
The Bottom Line
I don’t see how one can argue that portions of eastern Washington are in extreme drought. Or severe drought. Or ANY drought.
Virtually every data source shows just the opposite (and there is more I could have provided to you).
Unfortunately, this exaggeration of drought by Drought Monitor is found in other areas as well. The nation is not well served by exaggerating drought. As a result, poor decisions are made.
And all the resulting drought talk scares the population, and is used by some to exaggerate the impacts of global warming.
NOAA needs to carefully review the approach used for its Drought Monitor graphics and make changes that will lead to a more reliable, useful product.